For someone who only turned 22 at the beginning of January, Georgia Stanway’s longevity at the top of the game is quite astonishing.
Joining City after working her way through the ranks at Blackburn Rovers in July 2015, she’ll enter her eighth season as a professional when Gareth Taylor’s side raise the curtain on the new 2021/22 campaign.
In that time, Stanway has consistently demonstrated a footballing intelligence and winning mentality across her 150+ appearances in Sky Blue that belies her still relatively tender years.
Indeed, much has been made of her positional adaptability, which has seen the 22-year-old operate in almost every outfield position for City, but it’s her unflappable willingness to do so that really exemplifies the experienced head on her young shoulders.
“For a lot of players it’d be hard mentally to keep switching positions and not know where you’re going to be playing each week (but) she just gets on with it,” her City teammate and best friend, Keira Walsh points out.
“Even in training she’s always the one working hard, putting the tackles in.
“In that sense she’s so reliable that she’s always going to put the effort in for the team.
"Her mentality and her mental strength is incredible.
“She puts in the graft and I don’t think she actually gets enough credit for how intelligent she is.”
Despite being a tremendously talented individual, it’s the team that trumps all for Stanway, an ethos which could serve her nation well at this summer’s Olympics.
With Copa America Femenina runners up Chile, host nation Japan and Rio 2016 Bronze medalists Canada making up Group E alongside Team GB, Hege Riise’s side certainly have their work cut out to emulate or surpass the achievements of their only previous Olympic outing at London 2012.
Stanway was just 13 at the time, a wide-eyed teenager who, like the rest of the United Kingdom, was caught up in the elation that followed the herculean efforts of Jessica Ennis-Hill, Mo Farah, Chris Hoy et al.
She too watched on as Steph Houghton, Jill Scott, Ellen White and Karen Bardsley, her now City teammates, captured the imagination of thousands of young girls and boys by showing that, given the stage to do so, they too could perform at the highest level.
Nine years on, on arguably the world’s biggest sporting stage, it’s now her turn to prove it once again.
Stanway’s ascent to the top of the Women’s game was swift.
Joining Manchester City midway through the 2015 WSL campaign, she’d open her account for the Club in the Continental Cup away to Everton, before rounding off the scoring in a 6-1 win over Bristol Academy in the penultimate match of the season.
The England international would continue to forge her burgeoning reputation across the following two campaigns, which saw the Club win each domestic honour, and would even score a hat-trick in our 3-0 win over Sunderland in July 2016.
Learning every day, she was thriving at the top of the game with her love for the beautiful game emanating from her consistently impressive performances.
“Football means the world to me, I don’t think I’d have a clue what to do if there was no such thing as football,” Stanway would tell CityTV in November 2016.
“Football is my life, everything surrounds it, I do everything because of my football.”
The development continued, but it was the 2017/18 campaign where the youngster really made her breakthrough, with her buccaneering blend of technical prowess and tactical nous seeing her named in the Champions League squad of the season.
Her performances earned international recognition in the autumn of 2018 and, just like her domestic career, it didn’t take Stanway long to make her mark; sweeping home Nikita Parris’ cutback in style in the Lionesses’ 3-0 friendly win over Austria.
Further success would follow in the 2018/19 season with the midfielder playing a huge role for Club and country as she added the FA Women’s Cup, Continental Cup and a maiden SheBelieves Cup triumph to her rapidly growing trophy cabinet.
Indeed, the crucial and salient fact to take from that haul that will stand Hege Riise’s side in good stead this summer is that Stanway, despite her tender years, is a winner.
Her first experience of an international tournament ended in silverware, something she will unquestionably have developed a taste for and, beyond a semi-final defeat to the United States at the 2019 World Cup, she remains relatively unscathed from the near misses of the past.
At just 22-years-old, she’s already picked up every available domestic honour with City, consistently stepping up to the plate on the biggest occasion.
This is best demonstrated by her PFA Women’s Young Player of the Year award, earned at what, astonishingly, was already her fifth season of professional football by the end of 2019 despite only being 20 at the time.
Her response to a recent question about her future aspirations exuded that perfectionist mentality.
“I just want to do a job and I want to put everything that I've got on the plate for my team, and I want to win. I'm not here to mess around and I'm not here to just go through the basics. I want to win; I want to win trophies. I want to win competitions.”
Stanway offers a unique and potent blend of youthful exuberance and steeled experience, the kind that is rarely afforded to players of her age in the increasingly short term, results-driven environment of elite modern football.
“She makes my life a lot easier. I know if I give the ball away she’s always going to be there and trying to win it back for me,” Walsh says of her teammate.
“Equally, she’s in the right positions (going forward), she’s on the half turn when I pass the ball and she’s always looking to play forward and create something.
“You can see how good she is in all the positions, I think she will only get better as she gets older.”
The midfielder’s meteoric rise continued in the curtailed 2019/20 season when she grabbed a decisive extra time goal to secure City another FA Cup crown, this time at the expense of Everton.
And while her first season under the watchful eye of Gareth Taylor has seen her edge more towards the ‘unsung hero’ tag rather than the one grabbing the headlines every week, what she brings to the team remains as essential to our success as ever.
“This is what you’re looking for in a team player, someone who’s able to adapt, able to go in and not look out of place in any of those positions,” Taylor pointed out when addressing her stint at right-back amidst a mini injury crisis last season.
“I think this season she’s played in the eight position, the front three and at full-back as well. When you have a player able to do that it’s a real boost for the team and the group. The fact she’s able to adapt and play in different positions for us is something a coach really wants.”
And it will be Hege Riise who has that pleasure this summer, as Team GB look to trouble the medal podium at Tokyo 2020.
She was only 13 when her home nation last competed for Olympic glory on a footballing front; enthusiastic, hopeful but ultimately powerless.
But now the tables have turned and Stanway, boasting top level experience and glittering accolades in droves, has the chance to dictate Team GB’s prospects of glory.
Given her unwavering determination, unquestionable ability and underrated footballing intelligence, you’d be a brave soul to bet against the buccaneering Barrovian doing exactly that.
By George Kelsey